Adalah and the Civic Coalition-Jerusalem: New Regional Master Plan for Jerusalem will suffocate Palestinian neighborhoods, enable settlement expansion
Adalah and the Civic Coalition for Defending the Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ ) organized a press conference yesterday (invitation), 12 September 2012, on the National Council for Building and Planning (NCBP)’s rejection (translation of excerpts) of all objections to the Jerusalem Regional Master Plan. The plan clearly aims to exclude Palestinians from the city, consolidate Israeli control of the land, and maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the city and region.
Khalil Tufakji of the CCDPRJ spoke at the press conference, giving an overview of Israeli planning policies in Jerusalem and the West Bank that affect the lives of Palestinians. Israeli planning policies choke Palestinian neighbourhoods with roads, railways, and settlement blocs that severely limit and sometimes completely preclude their development and expansion.
Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah said that the NCBP’s response to the objections emphasized that the plan’s main goal is to ensure that the total percentage of Palestinians in Jerusalem remains below 30% of the city’s residents. The plan, she said, will also help to turn a vision of a Greater Jerusalem into reality, including by connecting settlement blocs in the West Bank – geographically, economically, and socially – to the heart of Jerusalem and the economic center of Israel around Tel Aviv. The plan places most Palestinian neighbourhoods outside the boundaries of Jerusalem in order to lower the percentage of Palestinians in the city for demographic reasons.
The Minister of Jerusalem Affairs from the Palestinian Authority Adnan Al-Husseini pointed out in the press conference that this policy is not new, but has been established Israeli practice in Jerusalem since 1967. Minister Husseini emphasized that Israel sees great importance in controlling the Old City in Jerusalem, and uses the Absentee Property Law to confiscate Palestinian buildings in the Old City and transfer them to Jewish ownership.
Adalah and the CCDPRJ submitted detailed objections (2008 Press Release) to the District Master Plan in November 2008 in the name of 73 objectors (56 Palestinians who reside in Jerusalem and 17 local associations). Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara and urban planner Hana Hamdan prepared the objection.
Highlights of the Response to the Objections:
The state’s response to a detailed objection submitted by Adalah and the Civic Coalition for Defending the Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ) in November 2008 claimed that, even though there was basis to the claim that the plan would serve political goals, the plan’s primary aims were not political. The response added that the planners proceeded from the assumption that Jerusalem “will be on the negotiation table in talks between Palestinians and Israelis,” and that “the city and regional plan requires flexibility in the case of a possible geopolitical agreement.” Therefore, “the Planning Committee holds the responsibility to be open to the needs of the Palestinian population, in preparation for different geopolitical prospects that may be agreed upon in a final status agreement.”
The NCBP clearly pointed out that the plan had been adopted on the basis of preserving the Jewish majority in Jerusalem, aiming to preserve a population split of 30% Arab, 70% Jewish. The response referred to the continuous rise in the average percentage of Arabs living in Jerusalem. In 1962, 73.5% of the population was Jewish, a figure that had declined steadily to 63.4% by 2008. The NCBP’s response mentioned a range of studies and analyses that projected that the percentage of the city’s Jewish population would fall from 70% in 1995 to 62-64.4% in 2012, given trends in emigration and natural population increases among both Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.
As for the objectors’ claim that the road network facilitates connections for Jewish settlements only, connecting E1, Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adoumim, and Givat Ze’ev, to the center of Jerusalem, for example, the NCBP responded that a complete road network would be implemented in the case of a peace settlement, to allow free movement of people and goods. With regards to restrictions and land confiscation stemming from the designation of security zones in Jerusalem and its surroundings, the response said that given the security situation, security zones and the limitations they create were inevitable.
The NCBP rejected the objectors’ claims that the plan violates international law as it is built on occupied land and violates the rights of the occupied population, protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention, claiming that in this context the status of Jerusalem is a political, not planning, issue. Israeli jurisdiction, control, and administration have been imposed in East Jerusalem since 28 June 1967, in a political decision taken by the Israeli government. According to the existing laws in Israel, the Knesset’s laws supersede international law, and because of this, Jerusalem and its borders are determined legally and judicially according to Point 8(a) of the Regulations for Municipalities guidelines, and by Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, that East Jerusalem is part of Jerusalem, unless indicated otherwise. In Supreme Court decision 5488/04, Justice Barak stated, “The State of Israel imposes governance and law or administration on Jerusalem governed by the Basic Law, official legislation, and decisions and announcements from the terms. Jerusalem, to the extent approved, is part of Israel.”
The objection included a comprehensive presentation of the proposed plan and its impact on the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, as well as on the general character of the wider region. The objection stressed that the scheme was a continuation of the planning approach taken by Israel in occupied Jerusalem, which excludes the interests of the Palestinian population and aims to preserve a permanent Jewish majority in the area which it calls “Greater Unified Jerusalem.” It is clear that plan’s implementation will severely curtail the possibility of development of the Palestinian community in Jerusalem and split Arab neighborhoods, and will make it difficult or impossible for people to access their land. Conversely, the plan’s implementation will allow the settlements expand in and around Jerusalem and will link them more closely with each other and with cities within Israel.